Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.
In many places, taking a class outside is prohibited because of safety, liability, time constraints, or being located in an unsuitable area. However, if you do have the opportunity to get your English as a second language (ESL) learners outside, there are a variety of fun and educational activities to engage in.
The activities we'll discuss here can be done with students of varying ages and English abilities. But be sure to adjust the difficulty level to meet the needs of your class. Also, encourage group feedback on elements of each activity to learn what students liked and disliked. By getting the opinions of your students, you can adapt and improve these activities to both fit your teaching style and to benefit future learners.
Now, let's explore some fun and educational outdoor ESL activities.
A big part of learning a new language is gaining command of the vocabulary. ESL students tend to focus on memorization of isolated words and, therefore, don't know how to accurately use those words in real-world situations. This activity addresses this issue by asking students to identify items in an outdoor environment and then use those items to form more complex expressions and thoughts.
A park, playground or natural area is ideal for these activities, but urban areas and other landscapes can work equally well. As you walk around the outdoor environment, point to specific objects, such as a tree, road, sign, slide, or grass. For each object, ask the students, 'What's that?' Select different students to answer as you go, or have the students answer all at once. You could also pair students off and have them provide answers to their partners.
Now, take the activity to the next level by asking students to describe details about the specific object. For instance, one student might say, 'The tree is tall. It has small green leaves and is very thin.'
Once your students are comfortable with physical descriptions, encourage them to express feelings and emotions. Students might say, for example:
- 'This tree makes me happy. It reminds me of my neighborhood.'
- 'There are too many bugs in the grass. I don't like bugs.'
In addition to naming, describing and responding to an object, ask the students to think more deeply about how they are expressing themselves through English. For instance, you might:
- Encourage students to draw a picture of the object and then describe their picture to the class.
- Ask for short stories or poems about the specific outdoor place your class is in.
- Have small groups prepare and perform short skits or plays that incorporate the outdoor elements around them.
Sometimes, the best way to learn English is to speak it naturally and without fear of making mistakes or being corrected. It's surprising how little conversation time ESL students actually have amid learning grammar, spelling, writing skills, pronunciation and all the other elements that are part of the ESL learning process.
Being outside can be conducive to natural, free-flowing conversation. So when you have the opportunity, take your students outside, divide them into pairs or small groups and let them talk. The confines of the classroom can make some students reticent, but being outside can make even the shyest student open up.
You can give your students a few topics to discuss to get the conversations started, but there should be only one strict rule: English only! As your learners converse, walk around and eavesdrop, answer questions and offer comments, but don't criticize or correct unless a student asks for specific feedback. Make the outdoor conversations a time when students feel free to try out new words and expressions.
Here are some potential conversation starters to get the conversation flowing:
- Favorite/least favorite sports, hobbies and music
- Why English is important to learn
- Family and friends
- Jobs and school
- Happy/sad memories and experiences
- Difficulties of learning English
- Favorite/least favorite places
It's important to follow up on these conversations when everyone is back in the classroom. Ask for volunteers to share something they learned about a classmate or discuss how being outside affected their choice of words. If your students journal, encourage them to write down their thoughts about the experience.
This activity can be repeated as often as you like because the content of the conversations will constantly change.
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